13 September

Nick Clegg and the ‘Bigot’ Row

For many supporters of same-sex marriage (SSM) in the UK their opponents are ‘bigots’. They are entitled to their opinion but the epithet in question is, to parody Samuel Beckett, fast becoming a word in search of some meaning.

The assumption is that there are people who want something, and that there is no problem with them having it. All objections must be irrational and bigoted. Regardless of how reasonably or politely expressed the case against is put, and even in the face of simple and uncontroversial observations about bodies and human nature, it is tacitly taken for granted that the only real motivation for voicing it is a bigoted prejudice against gay people.

We have blogged before about how the source of human life in heterosexual complementarity must share in the way we value life itself. Those relationships which are ordered towards the creation of new human life — regardless of that life’s race, sex or sexual orientation — ought to be considered special. This, in fact, provides an account of the features we consider normal to marriage. It allows for limitation of the union to just two people, something SSM would not permit, and, through its ‘till death do us part’ agreement, it promotes a stable environment for the raising of new generations.

The contraceptive mentality long prevalent in Britain has played its role in undermining the orientation of marriage towards children. But, if we carry the implications of this through to their logical conclusion we must widen the notion of marriage to include unions of more than two people and dispense with long-term ‘till death do us part’ commitments.

These points are not shallow assertions of a bigotry that will take up any convenient stick to hit its opponents. Nor are they underpinned only by dogmas accepted by religious believers. It is, of course, possible to attack gay marriage from a standpoint only of distrust or dislike of homosexual people, but such an outlook does not vitiate a priori other genuine and weighty arguments that seek to advance and preserve the common good.

Just as human nature is not always susceptible to ‘black and white’ presentation, so too is the debate about SSM more replete with subtleties than some supporters of gay marriage are willing to accept. Nick Clegg is now seemingly aware, on second thoughts, that not all opponents of SSM are credulous and bigoted simpletons and that to suggest otherwise in public is itself too gross a manifestation of prejudice for a major public figure to contemplate. It may, of course, be widely believed by supporters of SSM, and one is not surprised that Peter Tatchell should take such a line. If, however, more weighty advocates of SSM demonstrably lack understanding and subtlety, they will lose credibility before their more astute co-campaigners.

Perhaps we might now dispense with the myth that all people think the same things for the same reasons, and proceed to civilised discussion of the issue.

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